Why divorce does not have to be a nasty word
(i.e. the way to make your break-up less difficult)
None of us want to end our marriages in divorce but the truth is that if you now have to consider this option, you are not alone. At least 42% of marriages end this way which, whilst not a comforting fact, indicates the complex hurdles that currently face the modern marriage. There is no reason why being part of the statistics mean that you have to be part of the grief and upset that often follow. If you want to preserve some dignity, and indeed, sanity throughout the process you may be in need of a few helpful pointers to guide you through. Here are the things that solicitors don’t always tell you – or may like to but don’t have time.
1. Put the children first
There is solid research to show that divorce does not have to impact on the children or child of the family. In the law we regard all children who form part of the family make-up as children of the family, which of course includes step-children. If both parents prioritize the children above all else, the way forward is made much easier. This is because any Court having to make decisions about the marriage will prioritize the children too.
This is often easier said than done. As parents you may have fundamentally different ideas from each other about what it means to work towards the welfare of your children. It may also be difficult to segregate your needs from those of the children. These needs may sometimes join up. You may however, find yourself using the children as an excuse to argue your case a certain way. It is more easily done that you might think. This is you may not realise that this is what you are doing because the boundaries between the competing interests can be so blurred.
1. Try to be honest with yourself and with your partner in your dealings with your children.
2. Never criticise your partner in front of your children and never, ever involve them in any of the arguments about the marriage break-down. This advice extends to avoiding arguing with each other in front of them, whether on the door-step, on the phone or in the house. While arguments may have characterised the road to the break-up, the children need protection from these when they are at their most vulnerable, at the time of the break-up.
3. Speak to the children about the other parent respectfully and with good grace. It helps if this is duplicated on both sides. Even if it is just you who observes the rule, it allows the children to feel free to mention the other parent to you. However you feel about your spouse, he or she is someone whom your children will love and consider a major part of their life. They need to be able to continue to talk to you about them without feeling guilty, or worse, without fear of recrimination.
4. Do not put your words into your children’s mouths. A child enduring their parent’s divorce is vulnerable and sensitive. It is imperative that you do not try to sway them onto your “side” when they are in this state. Children are kept emotionally healthy if allowed to keep their own opinions of what is going on and not feel pulled into the dispute, no matter how old they may be.
2. Deal with your emotions at the right time and place
Give yourself time to take on board what is happening in your own way and without influence from others. It is a natural reaction to want to help someone, family or friend, who is struggling to cope with divorce. It is not always easy however to be the recipient of that well-meaning advice.
While offers to help can therefore be hard to turn down, remember that this is a time of self-preservation and that you need to work through your upset, anxiety or sense of loss your own way. You will not always feel helped or even ready to accept the opinions of others. It is usually kindly meant but this is not always the best time to hear your best friend’s analysis of the ins and outs of his/her own divorce or your mother’s declaration that she never really trusted that man/woman.
I find that, contrary what people may believe, women tend to be a lot stronger at handling the emotional side of their divorce which can often be a very hard struggle for men. It is hard to “man up” to one of the most emotionally difficult times of your life. Men and women alike find it even harder to accept that that there are no clear answers, solutions to the problem or even fault or blame to lay at someone’s door. It just feels god-awful because it is.
Your solicitor is not your counsellor. Keep a clear head when dealing with the “nitty gritty”. If you want to make the best use of your solicitor’s time, focus on the matters at hand, whether it is financial, children or divorce matters. Try to compartmentalise the issues so that they are easier to approach. I am a great advocate of the salami method. No-one can consume whole salami in one sitting – the reason why it is sliced into little pieces.
Use your free time to work through your emotional issues for yourself. Long walks, a good listener (very different from an adviser) or a trained counsellor can all help. At the very least, men and women alike might want to reach for a sad song, a weepy film and cocoon themselves in for the night with the phone off the hook and the mobile on silent – go steady on alcohol, a constant hangover is not the ultimate goal.
3. Get expert help
I am a great advocate of self-help. If you and your spouse have everything sorted between yourselves and feel up to sorting out the paperwork – do it. You can draft and file a petition yourself if you have both agreed what should go in it. The local Court is always a good place to go to pick up the forms needed.
There are a few trips and slips involved with drafting a petition so you may feel more comfortable using a solicitor. You will almost certainly need one to draw up a financial agreement, or deal with any disputes. You may worry about the cost but a good solicitor should be able to quote you for some work and give you a fair estimate of the remaining ongoing costs. Bear in mind that resolving money arguments are effectively deals about all that you own, earn or may earn in a pension. The cost is therefore an essential layout for your future financial security.
Other experts that play a role in financial break-ups may include experienced counsellors, accountants for those with businesses, IFAs (Independent Financial Advisors) for pension or investment planning, mortgage advisors or values for houses or pension funds. Barristers may have a part to play if the case needs specific planning and advice at any stage.
Do not be afraid to get the right advice when it is the time to do so. The benefits will often outweigh the costs. Counselling can also pay dividends if it helps you approach the way ahead of you with a clear head.
4. Find the positive side of the situation
What??!! No – honestly, there really is a positive side to all this. If you have children, look after their needs first. Then, look after yours. This is a time when it is acceptable to indulge yourself in calm and positive thoughts.
Firstly, take out all the negatives. Take a note of all the things you will not miss about your spouse, from watching the telly programmes that you like when you like, to sleeping on either side of the bed and not having to put up with the snoring.
Next, wake up to all the positives. Learn to do things for yourself, such as paying the bills, baking or cooking, the decorating or gardening or anything which your partner would usually take off your hands to the point where you became de-skilled. When you have children you can enjoy them utterly, totally on your own and without fear of interruption from their other parent. When they are with you, you can do as you like together.
Use your time on your own to become your own person, the parent you always wanted to be, taking up the sport or hobby you wanted to try, doing the job you wanted or learning the skills for the trade or career that suits you and generally learning to enjoy the freedom you have to start over.
There is no right way to go through a divorce but there is definitely a wrong way. Having been in practice since 1985 I have been through more divorces than most. It has given me the chance to help my clients find their way round this minefield. I hope that the content of this article can also help anyone who chances upon it and might feel in need of a little reassurance and support.